I find that I want to write about many matters to do with Christian truth and experience, so from time to time I try to refocus by asking,”What is my primary purpose behind my blog?” Well, looking back, I was first prompted to begin it when weakness, caused by a physical condition I still have despite much prayer by many faith filled people, made it impossible to continue to be a Parish Minister. However, it was not begun from a negative reaction to that experience, but rather as a desire to share what became very precious, namely the tender presence of God in the midst of frailty and fragility.
On one level that is hardly an earth shattering revelation, in that God coming into our weakness in love is the essence of the story of Christmas which we shall shortly be celebrating. There is of course huge comfort in the fact that God Himself in Christ has been touched with the very feelings of our infirmities. There is within God inside knowledge of what it means to experience human weakness within the limitations of human flesh. That truth wedded to a trust in the atoning power of Christ’s sacrifice and shed blood means we can have a confidence that when we are honest enough to bring our frailties before God we will be met with empathy. It was required of earthly priests under the Old Covenant that they were gentle in their dealings with people. There is a kindness in the merciful love of God that is very real.
However, the reality I have discovered through ill health is that there is a vast underbelly within the Christian Church whose experience is that weakness is not prized or honoured in present day church life and mission. There is a long history to that sad reality. In a faith that claimed to have found the one who was the World’s Messiah and Saviour, the Apostle Paul often seemed to find that with various congregations and individuals his constant moving from weakness to weakness as he was paradoxically being transformed from glory to glory, he was in fact a bit of an embarrassment. Imprisonment, beatings, starvations, shipwrecks, his times of experiencing lack, his being treated as the offscouring of the earth seemed to make a bit of a mockery of the idea that Jesus was Lord and God is Love. Paul had to actually say to someone he was very close to, namely Timothy, “Don’t be ashamed of me.”
Most of my readers will be within the Charismatic fold of the church. In such a fold, illness that seems to not respond to prayer can be a cause of unease, yes, even embarrassment. It can even become a cause of accusation of lack of faith or prayer, or persistence, or insufficiently robust a doctrine of healing. What is true of illness in this respect is true of other forms of weakness too; those whose marriages are failing; those whose children have gone astray; those who have no financial miracles to report in the decade long struggle to make ends meet; those who frequently do not have the confidence to come to a church service or become involved with church activities; those who struggle with depression etc.
You may not like to read this, but there are huge numbers of people, struggling with weakness of body, mind and spirit, who do not feel the Church of Jesus is as safe as Jesus is for them. Yet the truth is that without an honouring of weakness in others and an open owning of our own weaknesses before others, there can be no true fellowship, no true expression of church.
One of the basic teachings about the church of Christ in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is that the “weak” parts of the body of Christ are essential not only to its health but to its very life. This is a message that the most overtly charismatic church described in the New Testament had to learn. There was a thread of sickness running through its life which could be described thus: “I have no need of him or her.” Sometimes that manifested itself in despising the spiritual gifts of others as being of little, lesser or no importance compared with other gifts. Sometimes it became obvious in other ways. For example, at the gatherings to share food and the Lord’s supper the better off Christians went ahead without waiting for the poorer Christians, the slaves etc., to finish their day’s “work” and come and join them. They ate and celebrated the Lord’s Supper without them. In effect they were saying, “We don’t need the poor.” Some were beginning to feel no need for input into church life in Corinth from an Apostle with a thorn in his flesh, but preferred the theatrics of those who made a great show of their spiritual strength and authority and vitality by even striking people in the face.
I will expand on this another time, but let me just state it for now: the church cannot be the church without the honouring, the treasuring, the welcoming and acceptance of human fragility that seems to be an embarrassment to the message that the Father hears and answers prayer, that Jesus is Lord and His followers are more than conquerors, the most truly prosperous and fully alive human beings on the face of the earth.
Your weakness is the most precious gift you can offer to the church for it to become the Church of Jesus Christ. Believe that, whether you are able to get that weakness to the gathering of the church or not and whether or not it is welcomed when you do.
God bless you